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(677 words)NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
will work in partnership with three Arkansas communities in an effort to make locally
grown produce more locally available under a new federal initiative.
The White House Rural Council announced this week that North Little Rock, Flippin
and Osceola were among 26 communities nationwide that will receive technical assistance
in integrating various local food systems into viable economic models through its
Local Foods, Local Places initiative.
Amanda Philyaw Perez, a program associate with the University of Arkansas System Division
of Agriculture Public Policy Center, said she and Ron Rainey, a professor at the Division
of Agriculture’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability, initially set out
to gauge interest in participating in the program in mid-July.
“The Division of Agriculture’s Extension Service is a natural partner for supporting
the growing interest in local foods. We offer education and technical assistance for
a broad range of issues that include agricultural production and processing, environmental
and natural resources sustainability, healthy eating and access to healthy food, opportunities
for families and youth and support for community and economic development,” Perez
“We see this as an opportunity to build and strengthen local food systems efforts
throughout the state,” Rainey said.
Perez and Rainey spoke to multiple community groups about how to support local food
distribution and when the call for applications went out, some of the strongest interest
came from the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a non-profit organization in North
Building the hub
State Rep. Warwick Sabin, executive director of the hub, said he and other partners
in the project were alerted in November that they would receive a grant for $100,000
in technical assistance for the development of a regional food innovation center in
North Little Rock, which would build upon the creative, entrepreneurial nature of
the Innovation Hub already in place.
“The hub has a lot of components, including a ‘makers space,’ another part that’s
a co-working entrepreneurial space, and other educational resources here,” Sabin said.
“So the idea was to join with a lot of organizations related to agriculture and food
needs, public health — anything related to hunger, nutrition, agriculture, developing
of new food products, and basically borrow from some models around the country.”
“We would develop a food innovation center that would be a separate facility to have
things like a certified industrial kitchen space, gardens, greenhouses, and places
for food processing, labeling and packaging,” Sabin said.
According to a statement from the White House Rural Council, experts from federal
agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection
Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and others will offer technical assistance and expertise in developing the center.
Rainey and Perez said the Division of Agriculture will soon begin working with the
Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and other partners in mapping out how to bring the
idea for the regional food innovation center to fruition.
Other initiative grant recipients in Arkansas include the Flippin School District,
where members of the district are trying to establish a farmers’ market on school
district property. Petra Pershall, a federal program compliance officer with the district,
said she hopes to build upon a successful 2013 effort that established a small vegetable-growing
operation on a small portion of the school district’s property with grants from the
Arkansas Coalition Against Obesity.
In Osceola, Master Gardener Debra Felske secured a grant through the initiative on
behalf of the city in order to establish wider availability of healthy, locally grown
food throughout the town, which she described as a “food desert” since two of the
town’s small grocery stores closed in recent years.
Mississippi County Extension Agent Pam Pruett said both she and fellow agent Jason
Osborn will participate in a Dec. 11 conference call with several other state and
federal agencies to initiate the planning process for making Felske’s plans a reality.
For more information on food production, contact your county extension office or visit
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative
action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need
materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other
appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons
regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin,
religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any
other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
By Ryan McGeeneyThe Cooperative Extension ServiceU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Ryan McGeeneyU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org